Sunday, November 05, 2006

Can Tom Izzo coach football?

The John Lansing Smith experiment lasted four eventful (meltdowns, face slaps to self, flag planting, drug addictions, more meltdowns) and disastrous years. I have to admit that I am surprised at how little success Smith had at MSU. I really believe that Michigan State was close to exploding as a football program in the same way Iowa has done. I know that sounds ridiculous considering how inept MSU has been over the last 30+ years but everything was in place for a resurgence. Smith had a great offensive plan for a team that doesn’t get top recruits. MSU looked unstoppable at time even against Michigan. Even though those moments were few and far between, I don’t think Sparty knew how close it was to breaking loose. For a slew of reasons, Smith was never able to put everything together at once. The 2006 Notre Dame game was a metaphor for Smith’s entire tenure at State. Sparty had a brilliant first half in which it killed Notre Dame in every facet of the game only to follow that up by an equally inept second half. There was no rhyme or reason for State’s collapse; it just happened.

Now the search begins to find a coach that will finally bring MSU the football success that the fan-base feels it deserves. There is no denying the similarities between the Michigan State football program and the Detroit Lions. Expectations always trump the results. The MSU brass will say all the right things about, “taking this job search seriously in a way that no other has done at MSU” or “MSU deserves better and we’re going to give it better.” Will this search finally yield a different result? I can’t say. But, I’ll know immediately if MSU has really taken this search seriously by the candidates it is considering and the man that finally gets the job.

A lot of Michigan (UM) fans think that Steve Mariucci will end up getting the job. I can all but assure that won’t happen. At this point, it is almost impossible for “Mooch” to get the job. He doesn’t want the job. MSU fans don’t want him. Tom Izzo, his best friend, doesn’t want him to take the job. Plus, MSU needs a disciplinarian to come in and set a different tone for the program. “Mooch” is the furthest thing from a disciplinarian. It’s just not going to happen—which is good news for MSU fans. You don’t want “Mooch”.

The list of potential candidates will be ridiculously long at first. You’ll hear names from all over regardless of interest level or feasibility. Like most head coach searches, those names will be dwindled to about four or five during bowl season (if State makes a bowl game) or December (if State continues to be terrible) and then one coach will emerge as the favorite by January.

In my opinion, the candidates that MSU should be considering at this point need to have a nationally recognized name as far as recruiting goes, a disciplinarian approach to running a football team, and a desire to stay at MSU for the long haul. Some think that the next MSU coach must have an intimate understanding of the Michigan high school football scene. While I think that is somewhat important, Michigan is hardly a breeding ground for great football players. It is more important, in my opinion, for MSU to bring in a guy that can recruit in talent-rich areas. Michigan doesn’t even want most of the players MSU gets from the state. It’s hard to win with scraps.

Here are the candidates that MSU will likely consider (or at least should consider):

Norm Chow

According to a self-described “insider” who called 1270 AM, Chow would love the opportunity to coach at Michigan State. According to said “insider”, Chow feels that the perception that he only wants to coach on the West Coast is keeping him from getting job offers. Additionally, he apparently wants to take over a program that he can leave his “imprint” on. That is good news for MSU. Chow had considerable success at USC before taking the Offensive Coordinator position for the Tennessee Titans. Chow would be able to recruit the West Coast which is something Michigan State has never been able to do consistently. It would be a godsend for the MSU program to bring in a guy like Chow. The only question is whether the “insider” was drunk out of his mind or not. Time will tell.

Ron English

Some Michigan fans are more than a little worried about English leaving for East Lansing. Some even described an English departure to being akin to Bo Schembechler leaving Ohio State to bring Michigan to prominence once again. I don’t think there is anything to worry about. If Michigan State tries to pry English away, Lloyd Carr and Bill Martin will give English enough assurances that he’ll strongly be considered as the next head coach at the University of Michigan. Plus, with English’s smashing success in his first season as DC, there will undoubtedly be better job openings than a program that has experienced countless head coaching regimes and even more inner turmoil. English isn’t going to East Lansing. He has too much to lose in the name of better opportunities.

John Tenuta

Terry Foster might be “in love” with Georgia Tech’s DC, John Tenuta. Foster thinks that Tenuta’s experience as the Defensive Coordinator for Ohio State will open the door for MSU to get players from the state of Ohio. Foster also stated that Tenuta has a “pact” with former OSU recruiting coordinator Bill Conley. According to Foster, if Tenuta ever gets a coaching gig, Conley would become his recruiting coordinator. That would give MSU a great presence in the state of Ohio. With the talent that Ohio has to offer (supplies Ohio State with an entire football program and still manages to send top recruits to a number of other schools), MSU could take a giant leap in talent with these two men in charge of recruiting. Tenuta has had success at Georgia Tech with strong defenses. He certainly has the experience at big-time programs. From what I can tell, it is certainly worth it to Sparty to explore this option.

Butch Davis

Although I don’t think it is ever “hard” to rebuild the Miami (FL) football program, what Butch Davis did in Coral Gables in just a short amount of time was remarkable. After Dennis Erickson left the Miami (FL) program in disarray, the ‘Canes were doormats to Florida State—that was until Davis came along. He assembled some of the most talented football teams in college football history with the likes of Edgerrin James, Clinton Portis, Willis McGahee, Andre Johnson, Santana Moss, Dan Morgan, Jonathan Vilma, Vince Wilfork, Carlos Joseph, Bryant McKinnie, Reggie Wayne, William Joseph, and Ed Reed among others. Davis was a member of Jimmy Johnson’s coaching staff at Miami (FL) and with the Dallas Cowboy Super Bowl teams. This is a guy that would still be the head coach at Miami (FL) (and an “untouchable” to boot) had he not tested out his metal in the NFL. State would be getting a top 10 coach nationally at a tremendous discount. His presence in Florida would usurp any advantages that Tenuta would have in Ohio or Chow would have in California. Davis has about as much experience rebuilding a “loser” program as a coach could have. His first season with Johnson in Dallas ended in a 1-15 disaster. We all know how that turned out. The difference between the Miami program when he arrived compared to when he left is like the difference between the ’66 Spartan team and the ’06 Spartan team. This is a guy that Sparty should throw every conceivable resource into bringing to East Lansing before another school like North Carolina grabs him. The only drawback for MSU would be whether or not Davis wants to use another program as a stepping stone to the NFL. I’m guessing after the ridicule he took in Cleveland, his interest in the NFL is minimal. The only question is whether Davis has any interest in coaching the second best football program in the state of MICHIGAN. We all know Michigan isn’t Florida (weather etc.) So, yeah, please don’t hire Davis!

Dan Mullen

Mullen might be a little green to entrust to turn around the Green football program. He is a disciple of one of the top coaches in America in Urban Meyer. Meyer gets a lot of heat for being “overrated” but that criticism is unfounded. Meyer’s offenses have produced big-time point totals in previous coaching gigs at Utah and Bowling Green. That has caused some people to call him an “offensive” coach. But, his defense is why Florida is so good in the SEC. Meyer is a big-time disciplinarian who doesn’t settle for moral victories. He’s pissed when his team loses and he’s pissed when his team wins. If Mullen is anything like that, he sounds perfect for MSU. The problem is that assistant coaches aren’t always as good as their mentors. Just ask the Detroit Lions about Steve Mariucci or Marty Mornhinweg (both of whom coached under Mike Holmgren). If some of the other high profile candidates fall through, MSU should try to bring Mullen to East Lansing. He almost ended up there with Meyer before John L. Smith was hired.

Brian Kelly

Kelly did what Mike DeBord didn’t even come close to doing at Central Michigan. I’ve long suspected that the Michigan coaching style only works at a place where there is a talent advantage. DeBord didn’t do anything to dispel that belief. Kelly isn’t doing anything to dispel that belief either. Kelly led the Chippewas to a 6-5 record in just his second season. He also clinched a second consecutive .500 season this year which is something the Chippewa program hasn’t done since 1991. Kelly also had considerable success coaching D-II power Grand Valley State which he led to two National Championships the two years prior to taking over the CMU job. When Ohio State hired Jim Tressel to revive the Buckeye program, many wondered how a coach from a 1-AA program (Youngstown State) would fare at a big-time D-I school. I can assure you that Ohio State fans are not complaining with the results of that decision. Kelly could be a superstar in waiting.

Gene Chizik

Chizik is an excellent defensive coach. He led the 2005 Auburn Tigers to an undefeated season and a second rated defense national. It’s hard to do better than that—but Chizik actually improved on that by leading the Texas Longhorn defense to a National Championship in 2006. This is a guy that probably has bigger aspirations than the head coaching position at MSU. There are a lot of coordinators in the country like Chizik that would be a godsend for the Spartans if they had any interest. Chizik would also bring a recruiting presence in the south and in Texas.

Nick Saban

Forget about it. Saban left Sparty “high and dry” to go to a better situation at LSU. He’s not going to go back to Sparty which he probably considers two steps backwards. Plus, I’m sure people in E. Lansing haven’t forgotten Saban’s quick departure. If Saban’s tenure in Miami doesn’t work out, any major college football program that’s even sniffing a coaching change will be in touch with him. And when I say “major”, I’m talking about Miami (FL), Florida State, Penn State, etc.—NOT Michigan State.

Tom Izzo

Would he really do worse than anyone else has done? Plus, MSU loves the gimmick events so it could have a new claim to fame—the first major D-1 program to have the same head coach for basketball and football in the modern era.

Other candidates:

I’ve read a little about Pat Shurmur and Todd Grantham both of whom have ties to the MSU program. Shurmur is the quarterbacks coach for the Philadelphia Eagles, while Grantham is the Defensive Coordinator for the Cleveland Browns. How hard can it be to coach Donovan McNabb? I’m not saying Shurmur isn’t a good coach. I’m just saying there’s no way of knowing based on what he has done in Philly. McNabb would have success if I were his quarterback coach. He does have a Spartan connection but will he have any name recognition for potential recruits? That remains to be seen. Grantham is in the same boat. He’s the DC for the Browns but Romeo Crenell (Brown’s head coach) is a former DC. He undoubtedly controls the Browns defense. If Sparty wants to bring in a “Michigan State man” to do the job, then it may have to look into Shurmur and Grantham. I’m just not sure the MSU brass should be looking at a MSU guy to do the job. Thirty years of ineptitude usually means there hasn’t been anyone in the program who has what it takes to fix the program in the first place. Then again, maybe Sparty should hire a Sparty to do the job. Yeah, I like that idea.

This list can double (give or take a few names) as a UM coaching list too. I put together a list of Carr’s potential successors last year. UM’s list would feature more high profile names like Jeff Tedford and Kirk Ferentz. It’s almost a certainty that coaches with that much clout wouldn’t even consider the MSU job. I’ll probably come out with an updated UM list sometime down the road.


Anonymous said...

Excellent article, Jake.

For me, the choice is either Tenuta or Chow, with Tenuta getting the edge not only because of his Big 10 experience but his work with lesser programs like GaTech and obviously his defensive skill.

MSU can enter that echelon with Big Blue and tOSU in the Big 10 given how things should break down in a few years, but to do that, the right coach must be selected now.

Anonymous said...


You are throwing names out their that have not been discussed as of yet, interesting.

My comment is that you need do you reserach on some of the guys that you are speaking of. Obviously you do not know anything about Shurmur and Grantham. Both excellent coaches and canidates. Furthermore you obviously don't even care about the spartan program or you would have the logo on the header page.

I ask that if you are a fan that is writing articles to highlight a trouble time, shame on you my friend. All programs have issues and need to make changes.

I bet you won't even post this, but would love a rebutal email.

Spartan Fan

Jake said...

Thanks, Hwood.

I agree on both Tenuta and Chow. MSU needs to get a recruiting presence outside of the state. Both would make that happen.

I guess I'm kind of surprised by how little clout Butch Davis has. People seem to think that Larry Coker was responsible for Miami's return to glory. That was ALL Davis. Coker got lucky that Davis left for the NFL before reaping the benefits of his work. Davis may very well have had the best three-year recruiting stretch in college football history. But it doesn't look like MSU is going after him.

Those would be my top three choices.

Jake said...

Spartan fan,

I’m not sure how you could have read my post and come away with a negative feel. The goal of my post was to highlight some of the names the Spartans “should” look at and the pros and cons of hiring each. I made that clear in the post.

I am a Michigan grad. There is no question where my allegiance stands. However, my dad and brother went to MSU. My family used to own season tickets to MSU football. I know the program better than most State fans. Because I don’t have State’s logo on my blog certainly doesn’t not preclude me from writing about the program. The MSU hire is of major importance to all football fans in the state of Michigan. The MSU football program has been begging for consistency and this is a chance to get that done. UM football fans are obviously interested in what happens with the job search since MSU is UM’s chief in-state rival. This is a topic that pertains to everyone. That is what I do. I write about things that interest me and that other people may have interest in.

The guy who commented before you is a MSU grad and diehard fan. He hates UM, OSU and Notre Dame. I’m guessing that if anyone was going to have a problem with what I wrote, it would be him. I’m sorry you chose to view my post negatively.

As for Grantham and Shurmur, not only do I not know a whole lot about them, I doubt ANYONE (including you) knows much about them in terms of their ability to be the HEAD COACH of a major D-1 college football program. I’m sure a lot of people thought Marty Mornhinweg was an excellent candidate for the Lions job so I’m not sure how you can be so confident in either coach’s ability to lead MSU to where it wants to go. My comments about hiring an MSU guy is something that Spartans fans seriously need to think about. You hire from within when there has been success. MSU hasn’t had much success over the last 30 years. One could easily conclude that a fresh face needs to be brought in. Is it possible that either is the right candidate? Absolutely. Should the MSU brass tread lightly? Definitely.

I follow every team in every sport. I know more useless things about sports than most mathematicians know about math. I don’t hold the same disdain for all teams that aren’t my own like a lot of sports fans. I am a fan of sports in general. When I write about something, you can rest assured that I’m not speaking out of my a** and that I’ve researched the topic. What you’ll get from me is well thought out, well researched, opinionated and thought provoking posts. I’m not always right but it’s not because of a lack of effort.

Take care and I hope you're happy with MSU's new coach whomever that may be.



Powered by Blogger